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Remains of an ancient culture submerged

Giji K. Raman
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Half of the year, the water level rising in the Idukki reservoir submerges a portion of the high ranges that was once its main market.

With this, the remains of one of the oldest stone temples believed to be the presiding deity of the Mannan tribe too goes under the waters. In the remains of the temple, there are inscriptions in old Tamil letters. With no studies having been made on its history, the meaning of the letters still remains a mystery. According to the local people, there was a secret cave from the temple to Kozhimala - the abode of the Mannan tribe.

The Mannan tribe is one of the only two tribal communities in the country which still have a traditional king as their ruler and there are ministers to perform the tribal duties in the 44 kudies (settlements) spread across the district. The Mannans believe that they are the descendants of a warrior tribe that migrated during the time of the Chera-Chola war in the present-day Tamil Nadu.

On the banks of the Periyar, even before the modern settlers arrived, Mannans created a civilisation. However, the tribe slowly shrank to Kozhimala with the arrival of the first generation of the settlers here. Ayyappancoil was the main market of the settlers who were rehabilitated in various places prior to the commissioning of the Idukki dam in 1977.

“It was the main market also having a post office which was later shifted to Mattukkatta,” says Krishnankutty Kodithottathil, an earlier settler. He said that the bus services to the high ranges - one or two a day, ended at Ayyappancoil market which was spread across nearly a kilometre on the busy days.

When the Idukki dam was commissioned, the Kerala State Electricity Board allotted land at Thoppipala, though the stone portions of the temple still remain as pieces of untapped history shrouded in mystery. There are similarities in the structure of the remains of the Ayyappancoil temple with the Kannaki temple at Mangaladevi in the Periyar Tiger Reserve which opens only once in a year on the Chitrapournami day.

When the water rises in the Idukki reservoir, the main route is cut off and travellers, including school children, cross the waters on a bamboo raft using a rope tied at both ends on the banks. According to Rajappan, a minister in the tribal administration, even before their arrival there was the temple believed to have been built by Bhima.

“Our ancestors started pujas by bringing available a priest from a remote area,” and the tribal custom of worshipping the God started from then. He said that the meaning of the inscriptions in the remains could not be read out in the absence of any studies, which would have thrown light on the first generation of the inhabitants in Ayyappanacoil and in the forest areas of Idukki Wild Life Sanctuary.

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